"Aunt Caroline" Dye (1843?–1918)
aka: Caroline Tracy Dye
Caroline Tracy Dye, better known as “Aunt Caroline,” was a highly respected seer whose name was recognized in Arkansas and the Mid-South in the early years of the twentieth century. The fact that she was an uneducated African American made her popularity at the time all the more unusual.
Caroline Tracy’s parents’ names are unknown, and there has been an abundance of conflicting information through the years about her date of birth and early life. A 1918 obituary described her as being eighteen years of age at the start of the Civil War, which would put her born around 1843; however, the 1880 census records age as twenty-seven, which would put her birth year at 1843. Her tombstone records her age in 1918 at 108, which would put her birth around 1810; this seems unlikely, as it would result in her giving birth to a child in her late fifties. She was born into slavery in Spartanburg, South Carolina, shortly after the death of her parents’ master, William Tracy. His widow, Nancy, later moved with her family and slaves to Arkansas, settling near present-day Rosie (Independence County). Caroline Tracy had an infant daughter, Hannah, before the death of Nancy Tracy in 1861. All of the slaves, including Caroline Tracy, were the property of the Tracy estate until they were freed after the Civil War.
Caroline Tracy became aware of her abilities as a seer while still a young child. She could reportedly see things outside her line of vision that others could not. Among several early examples is a story that, during the Civil War, she foretold a visit by a member of the Tracy family, someone thought dead in the early years of the war.
Tracy later moved to Elgin (Jackson County), where she married Martin Dye on June 16, 1867. They had one child, a girl named Mary, who died at the age of eleven months. Through the years, they raised several children who were not their own, including one or more children who were Martin’s but not Caroline’s, and occasionally helped the mentally ill.
It was after Dye moved to Newport (Jackson County) that her reputation began to grow. She never claimed to be a fortune teller; that title was given to her by others. Historian John Quincy Wolf wrote that, in a 400-mile radius from Newport, “Aunt Caroline” was as well known as President Woodrow Wilson. She enjoyed a large clientele from all over the Mid-South, with an especially strong following from Memphis, Tennessee. So many arrived in Newport from Memphis that one train was known locally as the “Caroline Dye Special.” Her clients were both black and white, and most showed their appreciation by paying her a few dollars for a reading, although payment was not required. Dye reported that she received twenty to thirty letters a day, with most including money for her services. It was said that some prominent white businessmen of Jackson County would not make important decisions before consulting her. All day long, people crowded into her home in Newport waiting for a reading. She took advantage of the large number of visitors and sold meals from her house.
While she invested in farmland and rental property with the money she earned, she also purchased Liberty Loan Bonds to support the war effort. In later years, many people searched for the gold that she was purported to have buried around Newport.
Dye reportedly only used a deck of cards to help her concentration and would not give readings about love or the outcome of World War I; she did, however, tell many people the location of strayed or stolen livestock, sometimes giving specific directions, and she helped people locate missing jewelry. She gave visions of the future for her clients and offered advice on missing persons. In one case, she was consulted about the guilt of a man arrested for assault near Austin (Lonoke County). She enjoyed confronting skeptics before they uttered a word and many times told them of situations about themselves that she could not have previously known. It was said that she even predicted Newport’s future great fire of 1926, which wiped out a large part of the town some eight years after her death.
Several incorrect predictions brought her reputation into question. She predicted that the tail of Halley’s Comet would strike the earth in 1910, causing major damage. Also, it was reported that she claimed Searcy (White County), Kensett (White County), Bald Knob (White County), and Beebe (White County) would be destroyed by tornadoes in 1915; she later denied saying this. These predictions caused great excitement in the days leading up to their projected dates, but the disasters never occurred.
Dye died on September 26, 1918, in Newport. After her death, large amounts of cash were reportedly found in her house. She is buried in Gum Grove Cemetery in Newport next to her husband, who had died in 1907.
Dye’s reputation lives on in songs, including two written by Memphis bluesman W. C. Handy. He said the gypsy mentioned in “St. Louis Blues” (1914) was Dye. In “Sundown Blues” (1923), he named the fortune teller as Aunt Caroline Dye of Newport, Arkansas. Through the years, the legend of Dye has been distorted and stretched, identifying her as a fortune teller, a “hoodoo” woman, or a “two-headed doctor” (or psychic).
For additional information:
“Caroline Dye Passes Away.” Newport Daily Independent, September 27, 1918, p. 2.
“Delegates Return to Seeress.” Newport Daily Independent, March 26, 1909, p. 1.
Koch, Stephen, and Max Brantley. “Aunt Caroline Dye: ‘The Worst Woman in the World’?” Arkansas Times, June 30, 2005. Online at https://arktimes.com/entertainment/arkansongs/2005/06/30/aunt-caroline-dye (accessed June 19, 2020).
Morgan, James Logan. “She Put Newport on the Map: A Biography of Aunt Caroline Dye.” Stream of History 5 (January 1967): 17–18, 28–32.
Wolf, John Quincy. “Aunt Caroline Dye: The Gypsy in the ‘St. Louis Blues.’” Southern Folklore Quarterly 33 (December 1969): 339–346.
Robert D. Craig
Last Updated: 06/19/2020